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Bird-Man Wing Suits Seminar
by Bird-Man International
World Freefall Convention at Quincy August 12, 1999
Speakers: Jari H. Kuosma and Robert Pecnik
Seminar Notes by Tamara Koyn


The following material does not necessarily represent my opinions and represents my best effort to capture the material actually presented in the seminar. I do not guarantee that it is error free.

Jari H. Kuosma is the managing director of Bird-Man International. He has logged over 1,000 jumps since 1991. Jari holds a master rigger, AFF jumpmaster, and Vector Tandem certificate. Jari has been a member of Finnish national 8-way and 16-way teams and has been invited to join the Finnish world team.

Robert Pecnik has made over 3,500 jumps in 17 years and is the chief designer of Bird-Man International's Bird-Man Wing Suit. Robert has a background in aerodynamics. Robert is a member of the Croatian national 4-way team and has been designing jumpsuits and parachutes since childhood.

The first jumps using artificial wings took place in the 1920's and 1930's. Perhaps, even before then if attempts to jump from towers with artificial wings are considered. Before 1961, there have been 75 "Birdmen." 72 out of the 75 birdmen died in pursuit of their dreams. Only 3 have survived because they had quit. They used inferior equipment--they did not have today's technologies and techniques. Frenchmen Leo Valentin (1954) used rigid wings which are not collapsible and thus he was killed when striking a part of the airplane during exit. The horse-shoe malfunction was a major problem for Birdmen. Additionally, they pulled very low.

Stable freefall wasn't pioneered and taught until around the 40's and 50's! Thus, the Birdmen were attempting to fly before stable freefall was discovered. A journal containing notes on tracking techniques and performing 360s was found to be written by a US pioneer in the 1920's. However, he did not share and teach his work to others.

In the 1990's, Patrick de Gayardon invented the Bird-man suit which utilizes 2 layers of ZP fabric in a RAM air design. Patrick did not die because of the hazards of jumping a Bird-man suit. He was using a deflector attached to the bottom of his main container to refine the aerodynamic shape of his body. Prior to the jump in which he died, he rigged 2 lines into the deflector structure in a last minute modification, creating a horse shoe malfunction. Patrick died because he wasn't, in his haste, taking the greatest possible care with his rigging. This can happen no matter what skydiving discipline you pursue. Patrick wanted to create a Bird-man wing suit that any skydiver could safely use.

Robert began his work from scratch. 10 different models of the Bird-man Wing Suit have been constructed and flown during the design process. The current model of the Bird-man Wing Suit is not for BASE jumping. You need a different model for BASE jumping. Currently, BASE jumpers are testing prototype BASE Bird-man Wing Suits for Jari and Robert. During a BASE jump, it is important to be able to immediately reach the risers.

The skydiving edition of the suit is created for forward speed. Speed creates lift. When flying the suit with a high degree of efficiency, 50 mph fallrates with 100 mph forward speeds can be attained. A 2 to 2 1/2 minute freefall is possible from 13,500 and Bird-man fliers can travel 3 miles during the descent. A short and heavier jumper can not attain these slowest times. Jumpers experience a true flying sensation.

Before jumping a Bird-Man Wing Suit, you need to be able to recover from a position on the back, be able to track for the entire freefall time, and be able to perform loops. You also need to be a current skydiver. In general, Bird-man International requires you to have 500 jumps.


The mesh openings at the arm pits and groin allow the RAM air design wings to inflate with air. The wings, when inflated, add around 110% to the body surface area. When deflated, they add 70%.

Each arm wing has its own cutaway handle. Each arm wing has two channels for the cutaway system. Thus, they are easier to pull. After Brian Germain did a test flight with the suit, he stood on the ground and pulled the cutaway handles for both arm wings. His mouth literally fell open as he was stunned by the ease in cutting away the arm wings! (Brian had used another Bird-man suit made by someone else in which it is difficult to pull the arm wing cutaway handles.) If one cutaway handle fails to operate, the other will still work. The two channels for each arm wing also allows the wing to have a profile or thickness right next to the body. The two handles allow the user to perform the cutaway procedure symmetrically. There have been no problems with asymmetrical cutaway of the arm wings. The dual arm wing cutaway system also allows users to fit the Bird-Man Wing Suit to virtually any harness and container system.

The Bird-Man Wing Suit design allows the jumper to access and use both emergency handles without any need to cutaway the arm wings. It may be necessary to close the leg wing to control stability.

When conversing with others about skysurfing and the Bird-man Wing Suit, it was pointed out that the complexity of the decision making increases exponentially when using any skydiving equipment which adds additional handles to pull in case of an emergency. Even current very experienced jumpers have died due to becoming confused in deciding which handles to pull first.

Be sure that you are using a harness and container system with a BOC pilot chute. A collapsible pilot chute with a bungi cord is not acceptable. Because the leg straps are inside the suit, a leg strap throw-out pilot chute will not work. A pull-out pilot system is not good because that won't pull your pilot chute itself out sufficiently to catch the air. The pilot chute is closer to your pack than it is to your hand.

Standard harness and container systems are designed for a straight up deployment. The bag and parachute launch at an approximate 40 degree angle behind a Birdman. However, a normal harness and container system works fine when flying a Bird-Man Wing Suit. As the bag lifts out of a normal container, it oscillates and this can cause line twists. For better openings with standard gear, the bag can be placed with the lines in the corner between the back pad and the bottom of the reserve container. Check with the manufacturer first. Do tell your harness and container manufacturer that you intend to do wing flying. Sunrise Rigging International Inc produces a rig in which the bottom flap opens completely which allows for a cleaner deployment while flying the Bird-Man Wing Suit. The lines are positioned to the top, next to the bottom of the reserve container. This is probably more important for those rigs that have a thicker profile.

High performance canopies may result in line twists and off heading openings. A small elliptical canopy is more likely to have line twists. Do not use a canopy were line twists can be a malfunction.

Camera Flying: A side mount camera is fine. However, the camera adds challenge to your control in flight so you should make the first Bird-Man Wing Suit jumps without camera.

If landing in water, consider how you will get out of the suit. This is especially a consideration for BASE jumps around water.

Care for the Bird-Man Wing Suit: If a wing breaks, the suit must be returned to Bird-man International for repairs. Keep cigarettes away from the suit, especially the ZP wings. When stowing your suit, fold the suit with the ZP wings inside.

Getting Dressed

Lay the rig down on its back and dress the suit into your rig. Insert the leg straps through the holes at the hips of the suit. Thread in the arm wing cutaway handles starting from the waist. Start with the first loop on the suit. And then alternate between the wing and suit loops. The cutaway cable should finish into the suit. As you pass the holes for the leg straps with the back (posterior) cutaway cable, pass the cable through two loops in the wing and then back to the suit and alternating between the wing and suit again. Thread the front (anterior) cutaway cable, starting again with the loop on the suit. Count up 7 loops. Depending on your gear and body size, you may have to change the number of loops you have to count up to achieve the best fit. Then, pass the cutaway cable through two loops on the suit before coming back to the wing. This positions the cutaway cable under the main lift web and minimizes any chance that you would pull that by mistake.

Sit on the back of your rig and slip your legs into the suit. Be sure to put your legs through your leg straps and tighten the leg straps. Extra room is left in the hips of the suit so that you can do this. Because the leg straps are covered by the suit, it's easy for one to forget to put on the leg straps and difficult for someone else in the loading area or airplane to notice whether or not you have remembered to put on the leg straps. I saw one of my friends fully geared up and walking away from the Bird-Man tent. I decided to claw at the leg strap area of his suit only to discover to my horror that the leg straps were not about his legs!

Put on the booties before the winged arms. While some do it at other times, it is most convenient to do this in the airplane during the climb to altitude. However, the first time you are trying on the suit, you should completely dress to determine that it fits you properly.

Making your "Flight Plan"!

Forward speed is dangerous so you must make a "Flight Plan!" Talk to the drop zone owner/operator and pilot. This is jumprun planning. It's best to exit last. However, you can go first or in the middle. Don't track into the airspace of the jumprun. You have to avoid collision with others on the jumprun. You can track 90 degrees to the line of flight.

Bird-Man Flying at Quincy has additional considerations for the jumprun. Since there are so many jumpers and drops, air traffic utilizes two parallel jumpruns approximately one mile apart and diverging slightly. If you are on "Jumprun Right," you make a 90 degree right turn and then continue flying a right hand U-shaped pattern back towards the DZ while remaining offset from the original jumprun. If you are nearing the DZ as high as 7,000 feet, you can make a 360 degree turn away from the DZ. When exiting last, you can ask the pilot which jumprun, right or left, you have and then make your Flight accordingly. Without regard to whether you are on Jumprun Right or Jumprun Left, you may collide with jumpers from another jumprun while Bird-man flying at Quincy.

When you are flying your Bird-Man Wing Suit efficiently, you will find that the other jumpers of your pass will have already landed at the time you open! At Quincy, you will have to look out after the jumpers that are dropped after your load.

Remember that a tail wind will effect your flight path.

The Exit

If clouds obscure your sight of the ground, cancel your Bird-man Wing Suit jump. You must know where you are going in order to fly your Flight Plan. You choose your spot. BTW, rain still hurts while flying the Bird-man Wing Suit.

For your exit, you will leap with your wings closed (with your body in a track-like position). Having the wings open when exiting a side door may provide too much lift and cause you to hit the tail of the airplane. For exiting a tailgate airplane, cross your arms across your chest and hop out backwards. While skydivers were demoing the suits from the Bird-Man tent, Jari and Robert generally had them get out of a tailgate airplane since it's easier to have a stable exit from a tailgate than it is from a side door. From a side door on the left side of the airplane, position the right foot in front of the left and hop out sideways from both feet. If you get off balance, arching and relaxing will allow you to recover.

You can not close rigid wings. For this reason, Frenchmen Leo Valentin crashed into the airplane on exit in the old days of the Birdmen.

Flying The Bird-Man Wing Suit

The basic flying position is with the arms and legs spread. Rotate your arms inward with the elbows pointing forward. Allow the arms to be curved. (Ballet dancers will identify with this arm position as being "Second Position.") This arm position creates a better airfoil.

The angle of the arms is swept back to reduce the strain on the arms. The reduced arm angle also allows faster flight. (In addition to being more strenuous, a bigger surface area would be more dangerous.) By taking advantage of Bernoulli's principle of lift, the wing profile generates a higher horizontal speed. Low drag ZP material is also used for achieving greater horizontal speed. The wind will fill your wings keeping you in position and will fly for you. Most of the work in flying is from your stomach and waist. Your "tail" will follow you.

It is not difficult to fly the suit. It just feels different. The key is to relax so that you don't buffet. Buffeting is a sign that you are trying too hard. The key to efficient flight is to be able to relax while exerting tension in a strategic manner. If you are not comfortable, you can pull the cutaway handles for the arm wings and close the legs to deflate the leg wing. Once you achieve efficient flight, the sound of freefall reduces and you can even speak to one another if you are really close!

You are the wing flying through the air! You control the fallrate and horizontal speed of your flight with your hips. Arching and dearching in the hips provides a large range of movement.

Common errors that novices make include buffeting because they are not relaxed and/or forgetting to flying their Flight Plan because they are having so much fun.

Flying on the back is not as efficient because the wing does not form the same efficient profile as it does when face down. It can be difficult to do a good back track. The wing profile is optimized for face down flying.

In Bird-man RW, you can close on one another really hot much like in freeflying (VRW). The person in front can't see people behind so the people behind must keep eye contact. Because the burble is behind, you can fly over and under one another. You should approach from the side.

Maneuvers happen faster when you are flying closer to 100% efficiency. In the beginning, you are flying only around 60% efficiency.

Bird-man flight opens up a whole new world of possibilities. You can do fast or slow barrel rolls. You can spiral downward in a head-down position. Try following the roads and clouds. Play follow the leader. You can perform lazy eights, a maneuver that is similar to the maneuver you can perform while flying an aircraft. You can perform linked formations or barrel rolls while facing one another.

The delay is unnatural and you start to doubt your altimeter and audible. The Time-Out and Pro-Dytter work accurately. If you have a different brand of audible altimeter, check with the manufacturer. Be sure to use a visual altimeter as well. You can use a wrist mount. A chest mount reads 1,000 feet too high.

The wing suit allows a fallrate slower than that which will set off the Cypres. The Cypres may think you are under canopy. However, you should still use your Cypres. If you are unconscious, your body position will be a faster falling body position and the Cypres should activate.


For the first jumps with the Bird-Man Wing Suit, you may want to open anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000 feet.

Since you can not wave your arms freely for a wave off as you can on a normal skydive, you make your wave-off by making three heel clicks. Keep your arms spread with the arm wings open so you can continue to make any corrections in relative flight as necessary. Veer away from your partners into empty airspace and begin your pull sequence.

Because the bag and parachute launch at an approximate 40 degree angle behind you, it is a hazard if you are behind someone who is opening.

To begin your pull sequence, close the legs and both arms placing your right hand on the handle of your BOC. If you bring your arms in perfectly straight, it is possible that the arm wing can cover your BOC. Solve this problem by reaching for the middle of your BOC pouch and slide your hand outward to the handle. If your hand goes directly to the BOC handle, the chances of the wing covering it are minimized. While the legs remain together, both arms spread again with one hand containing the pilot chute, aggressively pitching it to the relative wind. Both arms must move in and out symmetrically to avoid an accidental barrel roll action. To keep your burble small, retract the arms again. (Do not go for unzipping the wings yet.) If your pilot chute does get caught in the burble, bend forward at the hips to clear it. (This is quicker than cutting away the arm wings.) You do not want to roll the shoulders as this can cause you to go unstable and/or to have line twists. It can be easy to mistake a burbled pilot chute as one in tow. The legs remain straight. With the legs bent, there is a chance of the pilot chute wrapping around the ankles. This is because the pilot chute and parachute launch about 40 degrees toward the feet. Opening feels like a swing as you see your legs come forward!

If you have an off-heading opening or line twists that need your immediate attention, cutaway the arm wings by pulling the release handle for each from each hip. Normally, you proceed to unzip your arms during your deployment. By moving one arm back as you unzip it with the other hand, both arms help you to unzip. That's built into the suit design! Zippers do break so you may have to cutaway one or both arm wings.

After opening, check canopy traffic around you first. Stow your slider, turn off your camera, etc. Unzip and stow the booties for more leg travel so you can run out a landing.

Visit The Bird-man International Web Site for more information.

Like a child in discovery of a new experience, you'll be shouting, "Again, again, again!"

Cloud Dancer
© Copyright 1999. Tamara Koyn. All Rights Reserved.